Harley Davidson.

So while I was sitting in a Harley shop, waiting for my KTM to get finished… which wasn’t finished according to the 1.5 Hour Estimate for a blown gasket.  I was looking at the shiny new HD bikes.  I really don’t get the Harley thing…. As a motorcycle company, the brand is shallow as hell.  The more interesting of the bikes are the ones that HD Enthusiasts scoff and refer to the as girl’s bikes. The Sportsters and the Iron 883.  In black it is a bitchen looking machine.  The other bikes look overweight and lethargic.  They also look like the same bikes they have been making for 110 Years.  Take a look at the the XR1200X, perhaps the most interesting HD of the bunch, but now Discontinued.

Yeah… I could have this bike.

What’s left are the Cruisers, Touring Barges… The same old bikes Harley has been making forever.  Big on sound, Low on performance unless you spend a lot more money on them.  It’s a wonder people have not grown tired of these bikes.  I got tired of them, just looking at them.

Then there is the V-Rod.   A bike that finally breaks some new ground.  But it remains a Harley side line… A step child.  And a nitch machine at that.  A Power Cruiser… Very low slung and fast looking.  Impressive stats.  But its a singular thing.  The Corvette to Chevy.  But Chevy takes the Vette engine and puts it in other cars… Uses the Vette to really spice up the the whole brand.  HD doesn’t do that.

Look at the other MC Brands.  They all have bikes in other classes, so Riders of all kinds can find something they want to throw their leg over.  The problem I suspect is that Harley is not so worried about being a motorcycle company and are too concerned about being a Brand and an Image.
If I was Mr. Harley, I’d take that V Rod engine and shoehorn it into a few other bikes.  I’d also try again on the sport market.  Because there is room for it.  Don’t know what that would look like? Imagine an HD 200 years from now.  Okay, no… because HD would still look the same.  Imagine what Larry Niven would imagine an HD 200 years from now would look like, and start there.  I want to see a wicked superbike with fairings and the whole enchilada.  Competitive in the Isle of Mann TT.  Ducati makes awesome v twin sport bikes.  Honda made a fantastic V-Twin Sport Bike – I had one.  Both these companies also make bikes that can do both Dirt and Street.  Where is an HD Adventure Bike?  Single Piston Thumper?  Where is an HD Factory Cafe Racer?

EXPAND THE BRAND, HARLEY!   You check out the full HD Catalogue, and they actually have very few motorcycles.  Just the same bikes that sport different Cosmetics and Front Tire Sizes.

Yet people will pay big dollars for those Hogs.  BIG dollars. Don’t get me wrong – I admire that.  I seriously do.  Because Harley has a Brand built on a very cool Tradition.  They have Legacy.  But Motorcyclists fall into Two Categories   Those that Like Harley, and those that Don’t.  Namely because HD isn’t doing anything to reach across the lane divider to bring in new riders.  I think that’s a serious flaw in HD’s future.

Here’s what’s pissing me off.  I’ll probably end up buying a Harley some day.  Because sitting on a couple of them… Damn.  It fit.  Didn’t hurt my knees.  Felt good.   Damnit if Harley isn’t the 1911 of the Bike World.  Classic lines and great comfort with a Big Bore.   Shit.

23 thoughts on “Harley Davidson.”

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. Harley Davidson is about brand above all else. Part of the problem with Harley expanding into other sections of the motorcycle market would be getting people to consider them at a price that Harley could make a profit at. If someone is thinking of a sport bike, they think first of names like Honda, Ducati, and Kawasaki. When they think of an off road or dual purpose bike, they think Kawasaki, Honda, and Yamaha. They would need to first get people to even think about them in those categories. Right now, when people think of a cruiser/chopper, they first think of Harley Davidson.

    I remember when Buell was out there, and it was many thousands of dollars more than equivalent bikes from other manufacturers. It was a great bike. But, people could a bike that was just as good for significantly less money. I believe that the only way for Harley to break into these other lines of motorcycles (and make a profit) would be to have some foreign company make them and then have Harley slap their name on them. And, even then, I don’t think it will work for long.

    1. I disagree. I think it is very possible for HD to make new bikes that are much cheaper. And Buell was expensive because they were managed poorly.
      Looking at a new HD Bike, one I liked was only 11 grand. Sport Bike guys will easily drop 18 on a bike. The idea would be to make a bike that has a REASONABLE price for what you are getting plus a little more for the HD Club Membership.
      And HD isn’t going overseas to make stuff. Unless it’s their SWAG, Coffee Tables and Stools, and Helmets and…
      Uh…
      But their bikes are all MERICAN!

      1. Well, the engines are at least. And that’s what matters, right? Not wheels, or forks, or distinctive chrome, or…

  2. I agree that the Sportster has some appeal to me and I was intrigued with the Buell for a while. I test rode the Buell and it was impressive at first. But I thought that the lack of top end power would get old pretty quickly. I might still get a Sportster one day, but if i do, I refuse to dress up like I’m in a biker gang.

      1. Well now, thanks to you and Google, I know what Sons of Anarchy is. I guess I’m just too practical. It’s like the analogy you made once between the Harley community and Cowboy action shooting. If you like shooting the old revolvers and levers, fine. But I can barely find time to get to the range much less get my Billy the Kid outfit together.

  3. I started out on a Sporty and loved it. Now I have a Dyna that I have ridden all over the country. I also have a Kawasaki. What I love about the Harley is its fit and the low-rpm – the higher rpm bands on metric bikes wear my hands and arms out on long trips.

    I grew up in the 60′s working on cars. That’s another thing I like about the Harleys – they’re just a slice of a V-8 and relatively easy to work on.

    Don’t let the Harlier-Than-Thou folks turn you off. They’re good bikes. But all bikes are good bikes as far as I’m concerned.

  4. I think the problem lies as much with the customers as it does with the company. Harley HAS tried to branch out. The V-Rod, the XR1200X, and so on are all examples of them testing the market. Hell, Buell is the biggest example of all. The thing is that all of those bikes proved that people aren’t willing to buy a non-traditional HD. I wonder how much money Harley lost on all of those ventures combined. No wonder they’re gun-shy.

    1. True. From 2001 to (I think) 2003 or so they replaced the Dyna Convertible with a model called the T-Sport. It was a basic Dyna with a sporty-looking fairing and flat bars and adjustable gas shocks. It was a great bike. Just didn’t sell and they killed it. They have their niche in the cruiser market and that’s their Happy Place.

  5. Nailed it, Ogre — Harley is the 1911. I love Harley for the same reasons I love the Colt SAA, the 1911, etc. Sure, there is bigger/better/faster out there, but bigger/better/faster isn’t a Harley. As you said, people like it, or they don’t. I like it so much, I bought another. I have a 2011 Dyna Wide Glide (daily commute and long-distance bike) and a 2000 Sportster Custom (daily commute and bar-hopper).

    People saying it’s the customers as much as H-D are exactly correct too.

  6. Sons of Anarchy is Shakespeare transplanted to a bike gang, look at the plots and outcomes. Harleys average age of a new purchaser of their cursers is the mid fifties (+) and Harley thinks this is great. Not IMHO good long range planning as they have no intention of changing or going after a different demographic.

  7. I agree–if what you want is a quick bike for the twisties, HDs aren’t the right bike.

    I wanted a bike that was comfortable for me and my girlfriend. I wanted something with a windscreen or fairing and hard case saddlebags. HDs are quick enough and twisty enough for two up travel. After a serious of mishaps with other dealerships, I ended up with a Harley Davidson because of the really good service you tend to see at all dealerships.

    I got a Road King — it is heavy but not too heavy and is well balanced.

    It isn’t too loud, but I wouldn’t mind it being quieter. :-P I was spoiled by my BMW that you couldn’t even hear idle.

    HD does have some things other brands don’t — like ABS, which after owning the BMW which was one of the first bikes to offer it, was a requirement for me.

    And it is in my girlfriend’s and my favorite colors too.

    1. Correction–when I talked about “some things other brands don’t” — I meant “some other brands”, at least on the bikes I was looking at.

  8. I have a 1996 sportster 1200 XLH. the wife and I have toured much of the East coast from upstate NY, have been from Maine to Tennesee and alot of places in between. Lots of people tell us you can’t tour on Sporty, they are full of s—. Also have a suzuki 550 but quality wise doesn’t hold a candle to the harley, which still looks brand new after all these years. Also all my friends that ride metric alwayus come running to see the new harley catalog every year as the metric cruisers hardley ever offer anything new from year to year. live long and ride hard Ogre whatever you ride !!

  9. I would LOVE to see the Revolution engine in a Sportster frame… with quality suspension and brakes.
    HD MAY get my money with that.
    A power standard.

    Jim

  10. The dealerships also need to drop their crappy attitude. When the big new Harley dealership opened here a few years ago, I rode my KLR650 over there to check it out. It was a nice showroom and seemed cool. I’m not really into cruisers, but I did like some of the Buell stuff they had out on the floor (shoehorned into the back corner). They also had a nice used bike selection from a variety of brands.

    When I asked the service manager if they did work on brands other than Harleys, he responded by calling my bike a “Kawasucky” and saying I needed to ditch it and buy a Harley. Insulting your potential customers is not a great way to get them to come back.

    I would also like to see them move into other areas. I tend to prefer dual sports or sport touring bikes. I see several models from BMW and the Japanese manufacturers that look good, but Harley has nothing for me.

      1. Sounds like horrible dealerships. Mancuso Central here in Houston (strangely enough, it is their non-HD dealership that is horrible) and the dealership my best friend uses in Virginia (Patriot) are really nice. And lots of the people in both places ride and like bikes other than HD.

  11. I’m loving my KP more and more. I like the legroom and classic cruiser stretch.
    Probably won’t buy a HD, or Honda, or a Suzy or ‘Saki, ever again.
    But that’s just me.
    Best CS? Honda and Victory (same dealership last 3 bikes)
    No experience with HD CS as I, and my younger brother had old pieces-parts bike. CS was griping at each other.

    Older brother had a 1200 Sporster, one of the Spec.Eds. I hated it. I think that much vibration make make a fella sterile.

    But, like the 1911 / Glock debate…It’s up to what you like/shoot/ride best.

    Comfort, to me, means more than looks, or bling, or sound-effects, or Brand Name combined.
    Ride what you like to ride, what you’re comfortable riding, or why ride at all?

    Additionally, you can argue percent of Made in America about all of the bikes, and use the Assembled in America argument with most of them.

  12. Grew up loving flat track and TT. It was all HD, Norton, BSA, Triumph then. Got a thing for that style coming through in a street bike. An street legal/tuned XR750 with scrambler pipes? Ooooh baby.

  13. There is no crime in favoring brands such as Harley Davidson.

    The crime is when you replace you’re own identity with one created by a marketing department.

    The victim is you.

  14. A long time ago, I spent a summer riding a Sportster 883. It seemed anemic at the time, but I didn’t really know how to ride, either. It was pretty good at shaking the teeth out of my jaw, though. Before I bought my Bonneville, I test drove an 883 and a 1200. The 883 was comfortable (better since they rubber-mounted the jarring Evo engine), the 1200 less so, and both felt dangerously under-powered. I’ve never ridden a tuned one with better pipes, but the stock models left me seriously underwhelmed, especially when the 1200′s pegs dragged around corners. Bleh. I wanted to like them, but for my body geometry and goals, there just wasn’t a lot of “there” there, and I wasn’t prepared to pony up another $5 grand to get it to where it should have been to start out. I’m not saying Harleys suck. If I had $20 grand to burn on pimping one out, I’d give it some serious thought and I’m sure I’d love the result. But to me, the riding experience of a stock bike doesn’t match either the marketing or the price.

    I admire the tradition, too, but when any business does what HD is [to me] doing now, THAT’S the new company tradition they’re building: that of a once-great has-been.

    Chris, WELL SAID. May I quote you on that?

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